I don’t think that too many people immediately think of collecting when it comes to board games. Trading cards? Of course – it’s sort of implied. Most of us don’t buy and hoard boxes full of board games. Yet, it turns out that board games are highly collectible. Who would have thought?
So if you have a box full of dusty old board games from when you were a kid, don’t throw them out! You might just be sitting on something worth quite a lot of money to the right buyer. So let’s have a nice chat about the rare, valuable, and vintage board game market, before you miss out on the windfall of a lifetime.
What Makes a Board Game Valuable?
It’s not always clear why certain board games become highly sought after and others end up being worth nothing. I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that makes a board game reach the heights of collectibility. So here goes.
One of the most important factors is rarity. The fewer copies of a given game there are left in the world, the more it is going to be worth. However, rarity isn’t important by itself. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean that anyone wants it. What sorts of board games are desirable?
Funnily enough, some board games are not collected for the game itself so much as for the pure design and artwork. This can be the artwork on the box, the board, or the cards, if any. Since many vintage board games could be considered important artistic artifacts, they can attract value this way too.
Obviously, the first edition of a popular board game is going to attract a higher price. Board games that also have some sort of cultural significance also work up good prices. For example, it might not be the first edition that’s sought after, but the first edition that went mainstream or made the changes the game is best known for. It helps if the game is from the childhood era of the current generation of midlife crisis wealthy people.
The condition of the game is also pretty important. It needs to be complete and playable. Some vintage games are now about 100 years old! The materials they were made from and the printing technology wasn’t all that great. So any game that still has some vibrance, few tears, and low levels of wear will attract.
It’s not just old games that can fetch a hefty price. Any limited edition game or one which went off the market quickly can command a steep price in short order.
Who published a particular board game is also a big factor. Some people are looking to collect all the board games made by a particular publisher. Games from historic publishers that have since gone out of business usually have quite a price attached.
The genre of the board game also influences how much it can be worth. Wargames tend to attract collectors with deeper pockets, for example.
Obscurity is actually something that can make an old game more valuable. There are games that were basically unknown at the time of their release. Long after the game is out of print, and the company perhaps out of business, the board game community learns about the title and then the value of any sets still out there goes up. It helps if the games were quite beloved by a small fan base for being good but didn’t sell very well at the time. I guess you can think of these as the most hipster of games by modern standard.
Kid’s games tend not to attract that much money or attention unless its something truly iconic; something that defines a childhood or era. Games that are just crazy weird might be worth something to the right person. Games that are “so bad they’re good” also fall in this category.
Then there are special luxury editions of board games. These are usually designed by some famous artist, made from stupidly expensive materials such as gold and jewels, and are really not the sort of thing I’m talking about here. Those games are made to be expensive for no real reason and have limited appeal to all but the most wealthy and completionist collectors. So I’m not going to include them here.
Of course, having a particular game designer’s name attached to a board game, especially if it’s an early unknown, can skyrocket the price.
Let’s look at some examples to give you a good idea of what sort of games become collectible.
Risk 40th Anniversary Edition (1999 – $350)
Risk is one of the most famous and beloved strategy board games ever released. It revolutionized the depth of play possible in a board game, and modern video games like Civilization and other 4X games owe many of their concepts to this iconic product.
Risk was first released in 1957, but the 40th Anniversary Edition only came to market in 1999 for some reason. Despite that, this game has gone up in value quite a bit since its release. While the game sold for about $100, you can now expect to pay well over $300 on eBay for one in good condition. They are numbered and certified. Plenty of people bought these specifically to collect them and have never opened them. If you can get your hands on a sealed one or near-mint set then I expect it will start to become much more valuable as time goes by.
The set differs from standard Risk sets at the time in a number of ways. The map is redrawn for this release. There’s a drawstring pouch for the pieces and the army pieces are diecast. It’s pretty nice just as a game, not to mention being a collector’s piece.
Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit (2000 – $1000)
The George Lucas Star Wars prequels have a lot of hate flung at them, although I think that plenty of Star Wars fans actually bought copies for their collection and still watch them. In retrospect, the films weren’t nearly as bad as hyperbolic fans made them out to be back then. Now with the new movies there’s an entirely new generation of fan to hate on films that aren’t “their” Star Wars.
The game actually won the International Gamers Award for best two-player strategy game. It’s based on the droid and Gungan battle that happen at the end of The Phantom Menace. Yes, despite true fans declaring their undying hate for the film, this game is so sought after that it will cost you as much as a grand to get your hands on it.
War of the Ring Collector’s Edition (2010 – $5000)
The Lord of the Rings has been popular ever since the books first came out, but after Peter Jackson’s definitive trilogy came out in the 2000s, Middle Earth has been firmly back on the radar. This game is more of a miniature wargame, but since it’s a self-contained set I feel comfortable putting it in the board game category.
The normal edition of the game pits the Free People against the Shadow Armies. The Free People win if Frodo can get the ring to Mount Doom. The main way to win, however, is by military might; that’s if either side conquers enough of the other’s strongholds.
This collector’s edition is special because it includes expansions with new factions, characters, and events. It’s the most complete version of the game and, as you can see, goes for a huge chunk of change. It also won at least eight awards, so it’s worth it on many fronts to super-fans of both LoTR and tabletop games.
The Landlord’s Game 1st Ed. (1903 – $50,000)
Even people who don’t know much about tabletop games know Monopoly. The Parker Brothers game about taking everyone’s money and owning all the assets has been a hit for decades and taught generations of children how to cheat and get away with it.
The Monopoly we know was, however, not the first version of the game. It was based on another game called The Landlord’s Game, invented and patented by Elizabeth Magie as an educational toy. The 1903 first edition of the original game was reportedly sold for a whopping $50K. Given its importance and age, that figure should not be surprising.
The Charles Darrow Handmade Monopoly Set (1933 – $150,000)
For a long time people thought that Charles Darrow was the sole and original inventor of Monopoly. As you just read, however, it was a derivative of the Landlord’s Game invented by Elizabeth Magie. That takes nothing away from Darrow’s achievement in refining and perfecting the game.
This handmade set, which was sold for an insane $150K, is worth so much because Darrow made it himself. It really should be in a museum, but whoever paid that much for it is not going to let a single scratch be added to this treasure!
For more information, see here.
Mickey Mouse Snakes and Ladders (1940s – $500)
This is exactly the sort of valuable vintage board game I had in mind for this article. While I can’t find an exact year, it seems that it dates to the 1940s. This was when Disney just started to hit its stride (the money from WWII propaganda didn’t hurt) and was raking in the cash through merchandising.
This Disney version of Snakes and Ladders also perfectly exemplifies the company’s strategy for almost all its existence – take something in the public domain (like the Little Mermaid) and then make a feature film out of it. Except here they’ve taken an ancient Indian board game and turned it into a Disney-branded product.
There are many reasons why this fetches a decent price, but its age is, of course, a big deal. It’s also got quite a bit of historical value and not many of these vintage games are still around.
Warhammer Quest (1995 – $500)
Wait a second, this isn’t the miniature wargame section. What’s a Warhammer game doing here? This game from Games Workshop is part of the Warhammer Fantasy world. In it, four warriors of different races raid a dungeon together in search of fortune. It’s hard to relate how beloved this game is. It has an innovative system and the players need to cooperate closely to have any chance of making it through the game.
This game is widely considered to be one of GWs best game releases ever. That’s saying a lot! It comes with a ton of miniatures to use during gameplay, but you can also use your own Warhammer miniatures if you have them.
Despite how well regarded the game was, GW only made it from 1995 to 1998, meaning there are limited numbers out there. These games also came with a bajillion parts, which makes it hard to find one with all the original bits still there. If you find one, hold on to it. It will probably go up in value.
Incidentally, GW released (or at least licensed out) two excellent iOS games by the same name – both of which I own and get destroyed in regularly (find here)
Milton Bradley Dark Tower (1981 – $500)
Not to be confused with the Stephen King book series of the same name, this 80s board game is rare and valuable for a number of reasons. It’s a great example of the sort of thing that collectors like.
The game itself is influenced by the popularity of D&D and other tabletop role playing games of the era. As such, the object of the game is basically framed as a quest. There’s a great evil in the Dark Tower and each player has to amass an army of warriors and collect the keys needed to unlock the tower.
This game was well-loved by those who owned it, yet MB didn’t sell that many copies. It has a great combination of factors that make games like these valuable. It’s actually a good game. It has a very 80s vibe with battery-powered features. There was a legal case surrounding the game, which adds historic drama. It went out of print quickly and, to make the item even more rare, after almost 40 years few copies still work properly. So yeah, five hundred bucks starts to sound reasonable for a working copy of this historically significant game.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Going through these games is a fascinating experience to me, but I don’t want to create the impression that getting into the collection game is easy or even advisable. You really need to know what you are doing before spending this sort of money on a board game. Remember, just because the guy on eBay sets the price to $1000, it doesn’t mean the game is worth that much.
Never be in a rush to buy something and especially don’t buy something that you aren’t knowledgeable about. If you want to buy a board game as an investment or simply to own one as a personal treasure, read everything you can about it. Learn what’s most important when determining the value of that particular game. If the game has been sold before, check to see how much the items have gone for and exactly what condition those games were in.
Never let anyone rush you for a sale. Remember that auction prices tend to be higher than direct sales. The seller can either sell directly for a lower price or spend the time and effort to auction their game. Don’t let them use previous auction prices to sell the game to you. Ask an expert for advice or go to forums for more information before giving away your hard earned cash.
The hard truth, however, is that sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose in the game of rare and vintage board games. It’s not nearly as straightforward as trading cards, where a neutral third-party can grade the card and values are pretty clear. So never, ever spend money on an expensive board game that you can live without. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.